A line of random digits appeared across my Caller ID. I’m always suspicious of that kind of thing, I’m amazed that Apple hasn’t figured out how to conquer phone spam yet.
Chris started identifying himself by his name about a year before he was diagnosed. Sounded more professional than ‘Hello’, he thought. Frankly, I thought it was just a more intimidating way to answer the phone, and I liked it.
“Hi Mom!” There was a slight pause, “It’s Faith! I’m using E-’s phone! He can get reception in Kenya and I can’t!”
Good Heavens! The Luddite in me is still astonished that communication can take place halfway around the world through this slim little metal box in my hand. One of my babies was calling my phone, maintaining that family connection that has grown as slender as a spider silk, these days.
Those of you who have been with me for a while know that Faith and Christopher were rear-ended by a careless driver coming home from my mother’s funeral, January, 2012. (For details, the essay here is “The Surprising Adventures of Single Motherhood”) Faith broke her wrist, and Christopher sustained a minor concussion.
The other driver was fine. As “Death By Infuriated Mother” is not acceptable punishment for such carelessness, I had to settle for a personal injury attorney. He netted all accident-related bills paid for, of course, and a small cash settlement for both children.
For Faith, this settlement proved to be pivotal in her growth. We had long talks about what ‘pain and suffering’ actually mean in an award like this, and it was a great opportunity for self-awareness.
How would this cash help alleviate the ‘pain and suffering’ brought on by this accident? What would a bigger bank balance actually do for the pain of suffering an injury on the day of her beloved grandmother’s internment?
Well, it’s a matter of the heart, really. Faith’s heart, along with those of the rest of my children, had been crushed by the death of their father, a mere 18 months earlier. Then, Nana passed, another blow. What would serve to help lift Faith out of this accident-aggravated depression?
Enter Uhuru Child.
Uhuru means ‘freedom’ in Swahili, and it’s an effort by Brad Brown and his wife Annie Johnson to figure out sustainable solutions to enormous poverty problems in Kenya.
These kids are exploding with the desire to bring some sort of the life of Jesus Christ to people mired in some staggering poverty.
Faith, at 19, is on the cusp of figuring out what direction she wants her life to go. All of my children are fairly other-centered, thank God, and every one of them have some pretty interesting unselfish stories to tell.
But Faith is the one who’s inner well-being seems to depend on this type of thing. She decided that this is where she would like to spend her money. She decided this in March, and has researched, worked and learned about the goals over there for months. It was a remarkable thing to watch. This goal really has done a lot to alleviate her ‘pain and suffering’, and breathe some life into her developing adulthood.
Uhuru child has a major goal of sustainability. Western charitable projects in countries like Kenya develop an unhealthy dependence on the flow of money from their donors. When that flow dries up, so do the projects.
Uhuru child has a goal of developing jobs and schools that can maintain themselves. Click on this thing to see something you don’t see in America. This is awesome.
Faith has been working on lettuce farm for a week. With U-child’s inital startup, this is a functioning, self-sustaining business, that will be there long after the Westerners go home.
Faith will be there for another week. My child’s heart is changing, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.
Much love to you, Visitors.
Addenda: Recently I’ve taken more care with studying faces. Here a couple for you!
Hello gentle readers, how good to see you again!
I’m sitting at a National Novel Writing Month event. It’s a gathering of purple haired, overweight, Whovian,Trekkies, pierced, inked and costumed people who have one thing in common; we all want to write a novel.
NANOWRIMO is a non profit out of Berkely, California, and is formerly known as the Office of Letters and Light. Over five hundred thousand aspiring novelists will join this crazed effort during the month of November. (nanowrimo.org) This is the fifth time for Faith, my nineteen year old, and also the fifth time for Rachael, who will be sixteen in December.
Nano is actually one of a long list of things that gives me hope for the future. It seems as though my role in life is evolving more into that of an observer, and I’m not sure I like what I see. Passive consumption of media is now the norm of most people in my circles. More and more eyes are fastened to some sort of screen, more hands are full of electronics. Fewer solid interpersonal connections are made these days, with so much electronic distraction.
I’ve noticed that with these two things comes a lack of engagement in the world. Nano is a wonderful antidote to that. If I had to guess, I would say that no one sitting around me has the equipment appear to be successful. Not a cleft jaw in sight, no tiny waistlines on any of these women. A youthful costumed flapper is sitting next to an authentically clad Starfleet admiral who is tapping earnestly away next to a middle aged Girl Scout. I would venture to say that most Nano participants are happier beside a crowd, rather than in the middle of it.
This event began at ten pm, Halloween night. I got here past eleven, and the festivities were in full swing. No one knew each other from real life, and it didn’t matter a whit. Everyone is united with purpose, we are all going to be the Next Big Thing in the writing world.
No matter that our collective attention span is diminishing, no matter that most Americans prefer the image to the written word, no matter that actual book sales have been declining for years. Everyone sitting here believes in the power of the story, and that, my friends, is the beauty of it all.
So off we go! Victoria is writing again, and I look forward to seeing you all in the middle of it.
Funny, in the midst of great blessings, how easy it is to slip into melancholy. Springtime is finally here in Colorado, the meadows are green, and nothing is burning.
Coloradans, do you remember the date of the first fire last year? March 26! One of my staff members had the fire advance to within half a mile of her home, and several clients had their life’s possessions reduced to dust. Thank God we seem to be retreating from that today.
Since then, life has been on a wonderful upward track. Learning to be single has been a remarkable struggle, but I have made some lasting friends in spite of the pitfalls and setbacks.
My counselor has been a great help, especially during the issues with fledgling children. It’s funny, people generalize and judge with the ease of a fingersnap. I’ve been an active parent since my children were laid in my arms, it’s a wonderful occupation.
When issues come up, like Abi leaving for Georgia in the fall, I get “Oh! You must be so saaaad! She’s moving so far away!”
Actually, I am sad. But not for that reason at all. I’m thrilled that Abi has matured enough to consider making such a gigantic move. She belonged at SCAD last year, truly. What makes me sad, is that I can’t walk next door, barge in, holler “MOM!” and word-dump all of this wonderful news into a person who would be genuinely glad to see me.
She’d squint across the table,stand up in her walker, offer me food, tell me to make her some tea in her uniquely crabby way, and command me to tell her all about it. An hour would go by, and she say something like “I’m so proud of that kid. You and Chris really raised her well. “
I’d give her a hug, and bounce out of the house, back to work. I miss my mom.
Visitors, many of you have taken the time to be gracious to me and tell me of your own experiences with your mothers. Unfortunately, not all have been good. And for that, my heart goes out to you.
Most of you though, have mothers who have done the best they could, and you’re grateful. T.L., thanks for sharing with me about losing your mom to ovarian cancer. A big, strapping man like you crying like a baby in the john makes me feel less isolated. You’re the best.
B. H., thank YOU for telling me about losing your mom when you were twenty. You’ve missed her for more than thirty years, yet your beautiful smile and lovely family reassure me that things will be OK.
K.L.? Thanks for sharing YOUR mom. She reminds me so much of mine, it’s a comfort every time I visit. Do you know last time when I left Eastman, she waved, smiled and said ‘Arrivederci’? ‘Until we meet again,” indeed!
A.R., thank YOU for tearing up with me every time we talk about moms. Seven years yours has been gone, but you’ve thrived, and grown as a woman of God.
Thank you, Visitors. To walk into the lonely night alone is a terrible thing. I greatly appreciate your company in these, the dark nights of the soul.
May I give you a piece of gentle advice? If you can, make peace with your mother. If you are at peace? Thank God, and think about the wonderful things you have. Skype, a card, a phone call, a chance to sit on the couch and chat. I’m thankful I had all those things for as long as I did.
Arrivederci, my friends, and bon soir.
“Cumberbabe”- Urban Dictionary.
Fans of the glorious actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, originally under the name “Cumberb*****”. The title of the fangirls was changed under the suggestion of Benedict himself, and so it became Cumberbabe.
It is simply killing me not to spoil “Star Trek Into Darkness” for you. I can’t even tell you how much I want word-bleed all over the page with reference after reference for all of us die-hard Trekkies out there. (And yes, beloved son of mine, it is “Trekkie”. Say “Trekker” again, and there may be blood.)
The Glorious Benedict Cumberbatch! Movie Idol for the Brainy!
My daughters and I have been swooning over the beautiful Benedict since we discovered him on the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes.
Benedict has actually been a steadily working actor for over a dozen years, but “Sherlock” was his breakout role, and now “Star Trek” is breaking records everywhere.
The girls and I are going to see it again tonight. The first time I saw it, I overheard a number of people in my vintage (that is to say 40plus) whispering about the sheer number of references director JJ Abrams gives us die hards to talk about.
It’s just hilarious. Ever notice how much cultural energy is to be found in shared storytelling, especially if the storytelling is good?
Even the corny ones like ”Good Night, John Boy,” (The Waltons) “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!”(Lost in Space), or “Who loves ya, baby?” (Kojak) or “Mom always liked you best!” (Smothers Brothers) , “Yada, yada, yada’ (Seinfeld) Even “Jane, you ignorant slut!” ( Saturday Night Live) (Heheh, sorry about that one, I just loved Dan Akroyd as a kid).
All of these completely dorky lines wormed their way into our cultural psyche to produce something that’s actually pretty funny. Remember calling out your friends’ stupidity with “Where’s the Beef?” Or, and this really dates me, acting pleased with a thumbs up and a long “Aaaay” like the Fonz? Oh, just the visual is hilarious.
Well, I can’t resist. So, in the spirit of a little fun, I’m going to give you Trekkies who haven’t seen the movie yet, a little scavenger hunt. If you over-think these things, you might spoil the movie, but I doubt it unless you are a complete Star Trek nerd like me. So when you go, look for these things.
What’s with the tribble?
The things you can do with a fire hose!
“I’m a doctor not a ________”
Lastly, those magnificent photon torpedos.
Get thee to a theater, get a large popcorn and settle in. It’s a blast. Those of you who have been to a Star Con, leave me a note and tell me what I missed. You know who you are.
Well, Visitors, I’ve got a stumper for you. I’ve been informed by a long-term reader of mine that my attempts at camouflage are really pretty lame. I’ve been investigating this whole PTSD phenomenon for a while, and how the general population deals with mental differences. I’ve related to you some stories about how various people in my circles deal with someone like me who’s been traumatized, and what it’s like to live, grow, and even thrive with this particular kind of baggage. I’ve told you very personal stories of betrayal, and some of them have been at the hands of the same people.
Here’s a summary for you, in case you’re new around here and don’t feel like reading my morose “Why a Blog” page. (Spoiler alert, Run away quickly if you are dealing with metastatic colon cancer. I’m not going to pull any punches with this one. Everyone is different, and you or your loved one might very well live. My husband did not, and it was ugly. )
July 18, 2010, my 46 year old husband Chris passed away from colon cancer. It was just about every nightmare you can imagine. If metastatic colon cancer were a form of legal punishment, it would be outlawed as ‘cruel and unusual’.
I just read on the Colon Cancer Alliance page (http://www.ccalliance.org/) that the statistics for stage 4 colon cancer five year survival rates are up to a grand 12%. When Chris was diagnosed, the number was about 8%. Good luck with that.
At any rate, it’s easy to romanticize a lost battle to the death. I don’t feel like doing that anymore. Chris’s fight was ferocious, desperate, painful, grasping, and very, very deliberate. If there was one thing that kept him going, it was the fact that he simply couldn’t stand the idea of his children’s stories having “I lost my dad as a teenager” as a tagline. So he fought it off as long as he could.
Metastatic colon cancer is a wasting disease. He had no symptoms until it had invaded his liver. Fairly quickly, he went from a robust, six foot, 185 pound barrel chested man with incredibly sexy arms, to a withered 128 lb shell of himself.
His last week at home is something I’m still recovering from. Intimate proximity to horrifying, traumatic death is a very good working definition of PTSD. A musical friend of mine once said “Victoria, that stuff is enough to mess with anyone’s mind.” Right on, Kate.
So, it’s part of my story. It’s a lot more peaceful now, actually. The first year or two, mental pictures of those last days would invade my dreams, even the wakeful ones. I’ve since learned that to try and banish that sort of thing is fairly pointless. What’s the first thing you think of when I say “Don’t think about elephants?” Big, grey, floppy trunks and ears, of course. So, “Don’t think about it?” How stupid is that?
Much better to talk myself down. Remind myself that it isn’t happening now. He’s not bleeding out now. He’s not hallucinating now. I’m not calling emergency vehicles now. Friends aren’t descending now. The kids aren’t freaking out now. Yep, it happened, yep, it was hell, but it isn’t happening now. It’s surprising, how settling that can be.
I’ve discovered though, in many circles, that kind of self-talk makes me a fruitcake. To get back to my opening line, some of you have been able to tell that some of the stories I’ve related here have the same cast of characters.
Actually, probably most of you. I guess I’m pretty guilty of thinking too highly of my writing abilities. But what of it? The fact that anyone, a Jeff, Terrence, Chandler, whoever, would go around still using words like ‘crazy’, is kind of startling. Do we say “retarded?”, “faggot?”, “Butch Queen?”, “kike” or “towel-head?” anymore? Of course not.
So why is “Crazy” the last bastion of comparative gossip?
My daughter Faith just cracks me up. She’s got the self-righteous, laser-focus hypocrisy meter cranked up on high. She also struggles like hell excelling at a pre-med course of study, community volunteerism, and intense grief about Dad that ratchets up with every accomplishment.
“Mom, my lab partner listens when I talk about how sad I am that Dad isn’t here to see I’ve tested out of two years of Spanish. Then she goes and tells her friends how glad she is her life isn’t crazy like mine! “
Yep, comparative gossip.
When did it become OK to say,or even think, “Well, my life sucks, but at least it isn’t as bad as THEIRS.”
I had an interesting discussion with a member of my church the other day. This woman was a medical doctor, a “Christian”, and good friends with one of the characters I’ve previously introduced you to. Apparently, these two harpys feasted on the idea that, well, while THEIR lives might be hard, at least they aren’t CRAZY like me. For heaven’s sake.
As most of you know, and my counselor reminds me constantly, I have an overdeveloped sense of justice. I simply can’t stand to see the powerless taken advantage of. That’s why I’ve spent the past several decades working with children, and find it so satisfying.
But when grown, educated, rational adults go off like this, I can barely see straight. Just who do you think you are, making such insane judgements? This is nothing but a play for power, and a pathetic one at that.
As you can probably anticipate, I had to call the doctor out on it. Matthew 18:15-16 is clear.
15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
So I did this. One of the few people in my life I listen to, a spiritual director of sorts, mediated the discussion.
I asked the doctor point blank of she had done these things. First, she went off on a long-winded riff about how she had never, ever, not one single time, even heard my name, couldn’t dial me up, had no idea who I was, until she received the mediating phone call.
So, I asked her point blank, “So you never, ever, not one single time, had a discussion with the other party that involved any identifying characteristics of me, my name, my age, the fact that I stutter, my relationship status, my cancer story, my mental state,nothing?”
Silence on the other end. Then, more of the ‘Superior Than Thou’ riff”
“Well, I’m a doctor. ” (So? That and three dollars will get you coffee at Starbucks) “People ask me medical questions all the time.” (Really? And you discuss them in a personal manner? All the time?)
“She may have talked to me a couple of times, but it barely stuck.”
Really? Well, you can’t have it both ways. Either you “Never, Ever, Not Even Once” heard or spoke of me, or you did.
The long and short of the conversation was that the doctor was understandably embarrassed about being called out, and hung up on me angrily. Huh. Guess Victoria failed on the Romans 12:18, “In as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” department.
So Miss Victoria is stumped. I honestly don’t have it out for the doctor. I’ve grown up in the medical community, and misbehaving doctors are a very sore spot with me. Especially one that makes a claim to the promises of Christ. So what to do ? I am beginning to thing, nothing. Jesus already promised that God the Father will protect the widow and the orphan.
It’s time to put this to bed. July 18 will mark three years that Chris has been gone.
Ephesians, Proverbs, Timothy, all of these remarkable books in the Bible talk about how ‘gossip separates intimate friends’, ‘stirs up anger’ , is frightfully judgemental and is something only ‘busybodies’ do.
Even being the butt of this nonsense, I’m actually OK. How about that? Two years ago I never would have been able to say that, much less share that with you, gentle Visitors.
My kids and I go along, and it’s OK. In fact, I can actually say that one blessing I’ve gotten out of this is an acute appreciation for the undeniable fact that all of us, every single one, has baggage to carry.
Every single one of us deserves to have their baggage handled with gentleness, privacy and care. That some of us, like this doctor, don’t do that? Well, I guess they’ll always be there. Like my mom once said-
“Vickey, sometimes the only thing in me that loves people like that is Jesus.”
Well said, Ma.
Much love to you all,
Chris and I had a simply terrific pastor for pre-marital counseling. His name was Mark Brattrud, and he pastored a little Full Gospel church that met in a Howard Johnson’s in Albany. Mark was perhaps thirty at the time, married for a few years with a couple of small kids. The church grew like wildfire. Made up mainly of college kids and young marrieds, we got the job done.
We sent out missionaries, sent up Sunday school programs for little ones, and had all kinds of positive things going in the community. I’m convinced that one of the reasons this happened was because Mark took what the Bible had to say about money very seriously.
At the time, a man named Larry Burkett had started a ministry called Christian Financial Concepts out of Georgia. Larry merged his ministry with another one, and it’s now called Crown Financial Ministries. Larry passed away after that from cancer, but Crown continues to thrive.
Mark got all of the “managing your money God’s way” materials and made Chris and I study them together as part of our counseling. We learned all kinds of things like this:
*Jesus talks more about money than any other topic except salvation and love. “Did you know that?
“The Bible has a lot to say about finances and belongings. I have researched God’s Word and found more passages about money and possessions than about heaven, hell or the Second Coming. The Bible offers more than 500 verses on prayer and fewer than 500 on faith — but more than 2,350 verses on money and possessions! There is no doubt that the church should have something to say about financial matters in the church as well as in the secular world.” (www.crown.org)
*”Thou Shalt Not Go Into Debt” is nowhere to be found in the Bible. It does, however, admonish us with all kinds of scary images about debt. Ps. 37:21 calles us “wicked” if we borrow and do not repay. Proverbs 22:7 says the “borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” Yikes!
* Money is intimately connected to your heart.
Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So, Pastor Mark wanted Chris and I to “hide these things in our heart” from the very beginning of our relationship. Considering that nearly 80% of all divorces cite “Money” as one of the top 3 reasons for splitting up, this was a very wise idea.
Anyone who’s been married for a while knows that reasons for arguing with your spouse abound. It’s nice to knock “Money” off the list from the beginning. I can sit here and tell you with clear eyed truthfulness, Chris and I never argued about money, because of this early training.
So, now that he’s gone, what to do? In the previous post, I related to you a gritty situation I found myself in regarding money.
The megachurches I have been involved in over the past years, sadly, don’t seem to handle their money well. Before Chris was diagnosed, we attended a church up here that has since shut down. Money was a constant issue. The church was affluent and well attended. It was estimated that the average annual income of the attendees there amounted to about 70 million dollars a year. (Average household income in the area about 70,000$ a year, times about a thousand regular givers.)
Out of the seven years we went to that church, it stretched to meet a two million dollar budget. Jesus asks us simply to tithe. Just tithe, or give ten percent of our income. Jewish folks actually were encouraged to make all kinds of other offerings, the ten percent was a minimum.
Had my old church simply been obedient and tithed, our annual budget would have tripled. Think of it. Seven million dollars. We could have started a free medical clinic, immunized poor kids, supported food pantries, had every single ministry in the family of God provided for abundantly, very likely with some left over.
This is, sadly, the modus operandi of most American megachurches. Honestly, it’s so irritating I could spit. My kids and I talk about this type of thing all the time, and fortunately, so far, their training in generosity seems to have ‘stuck’.
Ten percent isn’t that much. If we can’t get along with 90 percent of what most Christians make, we seriously need to reevaluate.
Did you ever notice, too, that Christians can’t seem to talk about this type of thing without raising up a whole crop of squirrely attitudes?
I got blasted the other day by a regular reader about the previous post. David is a doll, and one of my most valued friends. Still, he’s a redheaded Irishman, and trusts me enough to let loose now and again.
“Victoria! You should take that post down! You can’t assume about people’s financial situations! And besides, you’re making yourself out to be this loaded chick with more money than God! You are sounding very manipulative!”
Hmm. I thought about it. Really, I did. David is one of about 5 people that I actually listen to when they criticize me.
I realized that David was right about some things. Since Chris and I used God’s principles of handling money from our marital infancy, we’ve always had a surplus. The point of that surplus, after the needs of the family are met, is to give it away. Really, it’s not brain surgery, a minimum of study will reveal that God owns it all anyway, so we may as well be obedient.
Very, very few Christians are obedient in this way. Thus, people like me come across as indiscreet. How unfortunate. How much better for ALL of us to be obedient, and maybe even get together and TALK about the good we could be doing with a surplus!
When Chris and I were young, we had the joy of discovering that even a well placed 50$ could make a world of difference to someone. As we went along, we learned about how wise Christians provide even for their children’s children (Proverbs 13:22) and how we need to know where our money goes and have a plan for it (Proverbs 27:23) .
The blessings of this sort of concrete planning are really pretty cool. I think the best part of this type of thing is the joy that comes with contentment. Chris and I were not millionaires, and with four children to educate, I’m not going to be that, probably ever. But we knew the faces of our flock, AND knew the faces that came with sharing with those of us who don’t have a surplus, and could use some of ours.
So, my friends, lay off the judgements, if you please. I talk about giving because it’s what Jesus asks us to do, not because I’m made of money. Also because I think it’s pretty darn fun.
Much love to you all,
Last week was an interesting one for me in the annals of human behavior. A friend of mine started a program at my church. I wanted to help and provide some financial support. It was turned down by the board of elders, all of whom are white, wealthy men.
Now, before I lose you, understand that I’ve devoted a large part of my teaching career to carrying out what Martin Luther King really meant when he said that he wished his children would be judged not by the ‘color of their skin, but the content of their character.’ If he were alive today, I would venture to say that gender blindness would also be a desired outcome.
I also like men. I have nothing against a white, wealthy man being in charge, as long as he shows some common sense and Christlike character. Still, sometimes things just set my teeth on edge.
My friend has devoted the past two decades of her life to meeting the needs of older singles like me. (Funny, I don’t really see myself as ‘older’ at 48, but it is different, and a lot more fun than in my twenties. ) She started a group whose goal was to provide an environment where singles could meet and mingle that was not a bar, or some other obnoxious meeting venue where chemicals and poor behavior are to be expected.
With a few exceptions, Christian values are upheld, and the group seems to be meeting a need in the greater Denver area.
Here’s the delicate part. Jesus is pretty clear that when Christians get involved in charitable giving, one hand isn’t supposed to know what the other is doing. In other words, if you blow your horn, that’s all the recognition you’re going to get. So give, give generously, but shut up about it.
It came to my attention that the group could benefit from some transitional funding, as the church is quite large, and has a budget cycle that should be respected. The fiscal year for this church begins in January.
I offered to provide the funding, not to the church, but directly to the (currently unpaid) leadership.
(Charitable giving used to be a source of great joy for Chris, my late husband, and me. We did our homework, looked at budgets and business structures, administrative costs, and gave where it would do the most good. I miss that intensely.)
The approving elders set a meeting for last January. Then February. Then March. Last week, they finally had a meeting to decide whether or not to fund the position, which, by the way, was largely with my money.
The conclusion? Outside funds cannot be used to fund church programs, and my friend could wait until the next budget cycle to get a real decision. Thanks but no thanks, Victoria, you can keep your money.
Well, that’s mighty white of you, sirs. I venture to say, that if my friend were a man, and I hard- charging male CEO, the outcome would have been different.
Let me pause before I grind my teeth into a powder. Older singles are very much “The least of these” in the eyes of the church. You can really tell a lot about the character of a person, and a church, by how dismissive they can be to the powerless and poor.
Next, stand up if any of you had child development in college. Did you ever study feral children?
I had a phone call today from a client that I think may have been thrust into raising genuinely feral children.
Wikipedia has a pretty good functional definition of a feral children:
A feral child (also, colloquially, wild child) is a human child who has lived isolated from human contact from a very young age, and has no (or little) experience of human care, loving or social behavior, and, crucially, of human language. Some feral children have been confined by people (usually their own parents); …. Feral children may have experienced severe child abuse or trauma before being abandoned or running away. Feral children are sometimes the subjects of folklore and legends.
What do you think of when you imagine a feral child? Most of you probably dial up a Disney-esque Mowgli, a child abandoned by circumstance and left to be raised by animals.
Few of us imagine a child isolated as a toddler, given food laced with sedatives and having very little contact with the outside world. “Mitchell”, we’ll call him, was contacted by the authorities when they discovered his biological triplet sons had been isolated in a room with very little outside contact from the ages of about one to about three.
Mitch’s boys’ mother had multiple psychiatric disorders, and why she had any sort of custody of these kids is a mystery to me. The boys’ physical growth had been stunted and their linguistic development almost nil.
That is to say, their conventional linguistic development. Most of us with healthy parent-child relationships see our children ride a magnificent wave of language acquisition during these crucial years. When the boys were discovered to be living in these horrendous conditions, they had developed a language of their own. They are the size of a typical one year old, and chatter away with each other, clearly understanding what the other has to say.
They bring each other things, have conversations, and play side by side. The problem is, no one else in the world has a clue what they are saying.
Mitch desperately wanted custody of his boys. He received it, but in order to keep it, he has to keep up with an onerous schedule of various therapies all at his expense. Mitch is a blue collar worker, and is pedaling as fast as he can to make sure his boys get to all of their appointments.
So he lands on EA’s doorstep.
“Please. Victoria. No one else has space for all of them. I can’t break them up, and it would kill me to be running to three different facilities. Can you help?”
Can I help.
Three profoundly abused, seriously disabled little boys, and a dad who’s doing everything in his power to keep them at home.
On the one hand, this is the most depressing part of my job. Lock three little children in a room for over a year? The diaper rash alone must have left permanent scars. What kind of person uses their power for such a profoundly negative thing?
A sick one.
On the other hand, what an opportunity for good. Perhaps three isn’t too late. Noam Chomsky postulated on the “Language Acquisition Device” that all children have, and theorized that all children can learn language until about twelve.
Other theorists speculate that the cutoff is closer to six. Much past that, and the hope of being a native language speaker diminishes rapidly.
Still, there might be a chance. So what do I do? Our country is headed for disaster in terms of early childhood education. If President Obama has his way, our country will soon not have a K-12 school system, but a PS-16 state funded system. The reasons to be apprehensive about this are legion.
Back to Mitch. The state has stated to Mitch that if he does not provide an appropriate educational environment for these boys, at his expense, the boys will land in foster care and the state will find preschool placement for them.
This is insane.
Mitch wants his boys. Because the dad assumes responsibility of these profoundly damaged kids, he must pay an enormous fee for them to come to my school, or the state will take them and tax dollars will not only pay their preschool fees, but their foster care and upkeep as well.
This makes no sense.
Why not halve the cost, have the state pay a discounted rate to EA, and Mitch pay to raise his sons, as it should be?
So, I turn this over in my mind, and I bring it to you. Are any of you advocates for the disenfranchised? Advocates for the rights of fathers? Can any of you help me help Mitch?
If we can find the funding for all three of these kids, including the funding for a special aide just for the boys, we at EA could make a profound difference in the language development of these kids.
In the mean time, pray for Mitch. Pray for the feral kids who are isolated, but not discovered yet. Pray that there is still hope for us, as humans, to treat the least among us with some degree of dignity.
It’s what Jesus would have us do.
I was going to have a lovely night here at Barnes and Noble with Rachael putting together a picture book of our recent cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. It was terrific! I have some great pictures for you guys to see of the magnificent boat and some wonderful, different places on the planet. Some of the simplest ones are the best. For example, ever notice how scary it is too look over the pier anywhere on Manhattan Island? Someone once told me you were only safe if you got a hepatitis shot before swimming! Contrast that to this:
Ah! Go swim anywhere! From a pirate ship in Saint Thomas.
But that’s going to have to wait until tomorrow.
Those of you who have been with me for a while know that I’m contemplating going back to school for a doctorate. Abnormal neuroscience has held a fascination for me for years. I’ve been steeped in the ‘normal’ (Ha!) for decades. Now, I want to see if I can make a contribution toward catching the likes of Dylan Klebold or Adam Lanza.
I also like the fact that we are all pretty much in the same boat, as far as the hard cards we get dealt in life. Sure, I’ve had an unusually bad run, but if something traumatizing hasn’t happened to you, just wait a bit. Someone is going to abuse you, one of your addictions will get the better of you, or someone will die.
Here’s the good news, it’s doable.
Several columns ago I wrote about PTSD and an experience that I had that was essentially ‘retraumatizing.’ (“Jeff Mackleby…”) In a fascinating study of the etiology of PTSD stressors Julian D. Ford describes education, reading ability, and a belief in ‘self-efficacy’ to have a tremendous impact on the lowering of ‘retraumatization’ among PTSD survivors.
I think that’s pretty damn cool.
In essence, if you read well, like school, and believe that you can help yourself and others, you can make a difference the the lives of others. I come out pretty strong in all those areas.
So here we go.
Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin are simply terrific. They’re two of my favorite actresses, so I thought it would be a fun way to spend an evening with Rachael, followed by a trip to Barnes and Noble.
(SPOILER ALERT!) “The Call” is a story about how a 911 police officer responds to a lethal call. Berry plays the police officer in the 911 call center (The “Hive”) who receives the call of a teenager who is trying to avoid the hands of a home invader.
She doesn’t. She’s murdered in her little-girl bedroom, and the invader goes on about his business. Berry’s character hears everything, and is brutalized. (Some of you are getting a gut reaction right now. Good for you.)
Halle’s character is a decent human being, so is realistically depicted as being traumatized by this event.
Six months later, the assassin strikes again, and Berry’s protege takes the call. Berry is now a trainer, and her newbie replacement can’t figure out what to do when Breslin’s character is abducted from a mall.
What follows is a tense cat and mouse game between the killer of the previous call, Berry and Breslin’s teenage character. Berry is exceptional and Breslin is really coming into her own.
It’s a tightly woven, edge of your seat tale, and very, very realistic. Breslin very nearly loses her life, as does Berry. I had my eyes glued to the screen, and at one point found tears running down my face. What the heck?
Well, duh. I have three teenage girls. This could be any one of them. Probably has been one of yours, my precious reading audience. Why look at a story that sets your thoughts in such a negative direction?
So if your loss still gets to you, if you still feel the pinch of pain in your gut when you hear accounts of other people’s trauma, don’t go see “The Call.”
All the best, my forward looking friends.
The first time I ever took a cruise, and I believe the total now is up to three, I noticed there was a definite pecking order according to skin tone.
Seriously, the darker the employee, the farther down on the ‘great job’ ladder they would fall. Nigerians and Jamaicans were room stewards, hall sweepers, Norwegians and Finns crewed the the boat.
On the Allure, though, I noticed this got a little scrambled. For example, there’s a perky species of human known as the ‘cruise director’. Ours was a balding, energetic multi-talented dude of about forty. Stocky and oozing charm, he’d extol everything from salsa dance lessons to jewelry classes. Then, he’s get on stage to warm up the crowd before shows, and give a good rendition on a guitar of some lame eighties song in a dorky getup, eliciting some pretty good laughs.
Last night I sat with Christopher in the last (clean) comedy show of the night, and the cruise director bounced on to the stage and started with his intro. Maybe because I was worn out, but it took me a beat to realize he was as black as the Caribbean night.
“Huh?” I turned to my son. “Did he change nationalities?” This guy was a doppleganger for the white dude, with some serious sun exposure!
As the kids (#portableparty) and would gad about these various excursions and places, I got to tell them stories about things their father and I would do, and the very cool people we would meet.
See, when Chris and I first started teaching, it was English to Speakers of Other Languages. (ESL) What a great job. We are lucky to live in the most adventurous country in the world, and people still clamor to get here.
English is still the ticket to movin’ on up, it seems.
Now, our adventures are bulkier, costlier, and much, much more satisfying. See, to me, a sabbatical or a break is not so much about relaxing as it is about difference. Differences in relationships is especially fascinating to me.
In Saint Maarten, for example, it was a riot to educate these kids about advertising. When I advertise any of my business, I do all the usual stuff. Print, paper, realtors, all kinds of things. In Saint Maarten, if someone wants to braid your hair, sell you a t shirt or a beach umbrella, they plant themselves firmly in your path, intrude in your personal American space bubble, and ask. I find that hilarious. But it’s effective! You want a T shirt, Selene has three for ten bucks. Beach Umbrella? Verizon has nothing on the local network of ebony folk signaling each other a block away.
The beaches of Saint Maarten are unmatched. White powdery sand and the distinctive Caribbean blue, it’s what they have to sell. Who can blame them for getting in your face to make a living?
So I rent their boat and tip them to take me to a cool snorkeling spot. I pay for Christopher to discover how wild it is to hover next to a barracuda. I chat up the lovely French diver and her boyfriend, and discover that there actually is a niggling, sneaking appeal to chucking it all and living in the islands. Maybe for a little while.
Dialects and code switching are especially great to watch.
See, the white folks who chuck it all and come down here to live rarely get the island patois.
But to listed to one black-as-night islander talk to another is just like music. I can make out a few words, but mainly, get carried away on the tones and the flow of the sound.
I mean, for all I know, they could be saying “Let’s take the white lady for all we can, and laugh about it when the giant boats leave. “
Ha! But I don’t think so. The islanders on Saint Maartan strike me as pretty universal. Ordinary folk with families and lives, doing the best they can with the tools they’ve got.
Great day in Saint Maarten.
“Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.”
This famous phrase is attributed to the first century Roman poet Juvenal. In context, Juvenal is displaying his contempt for the slide of contemporary Romans into a culture of decadence, rather than historical political involvement. This could be interpreted as ‘the richer and more distracted the citizens feel, the less trouble they’ll cause.’
This is utterly fascinating to me, as a single parent trying to guide these four kids into responsible adulthood.
Gaze upon this mountainous thing with me, for a moment-
The craft next to it is a cruise ship from the “Princess” line, and we are docked side by side at Saint Thomas, USVI.
Really, it’s just sort of staggering, don’t you think?I find myself whistling “Down in the Valley” when I walk between ships when they are docked. I mean, I can barely see the sky.
This thing is so gigantic I’m mindful of things like BASE jumps and rappelling down mountainsides when I walk beside it.
So, a bit of history. When Chris and I started our parenting journey, we decided that we didn’t want our children to be happy, we wanted them to be good. Really “Happy” is such an first world notion. I don’t give a plugged nickel if my children are ‘happy’. Just the word is insipid and annoys me. Any parent with more than two brain cells to rub together can get that ‘happy’ is fleeting, and ‘good’ is forever. Why? “Happy” can change if I trip over a shoelace and break my wrist. (True story)
But “Good” lasts. “Good” takes risks. “Good” says to the hurting woman at the well, ‘Yes, you can have any extra that I don’t need. My children are fed and clothed, I have a surplus, it’s yours.’
“Good” looks at the destitute cancer victim and says “Of course, you can stay with me. Yes, you may use my things, and get whatever measure of peace you can find to rebuild some strength for this battle you are waging.”
“Good” says to the college student “Think! You have a magnificent brain! Weigh what your professors tell you, form your OWN thoughts and convictions, develop your OWN identity! You can do this. “
“Good” looks at it’s children and says “Cause trouble. Don’t be distracted by bread and circuses. Stick up for the rights of those who have less power than you. Question your peers, don’t go with the affluent flow.”
So, what are we doing here? Really, it’s kind of hilarious. Here’s one reason: “Traveling Feet”
We took a day trip in Nassau to snorkel a spot called “Rainbow Reef.” There’s wild country under the surface of the waves, and these mountain children rarely see it.
Here’s another reason. You folks remember my brother selling his manuscript “The Old Man and the Harley ” to Thomas Nelson a couple of years back? (Go to Amazon and get it, it’s great. )
Tradition and identity. Riding Harleys is a wonderful part of John and Dad’s history. How cool to honor that like this?
So here we are on this towering shrine to excess. The Allure is a techological marvel, It holds several thousand passengers, and over two thousand service personnel.
It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. The service is impeccable, the food superb, the shows of the highest quality, and the staff seems to be either authentically friendly or extremely well trained.
Our first day was in Nassau, Bahamas. We chose to spend it largely on another boat, speeding out to a good local dive spot.
All of my kids are experienced divers, and have been snorkeling since about age 5, so this was nothing new. It’s funny, I could see them chomping to be let loose to explore the boundary waters, but they could see that would likely tick off the people who’s responsibility it was to keep them safe.
“Safe” is as much of an irritant to my kids as it is to me. I think it was Lucy who once asked Mr. Beaver if Aslan the Lion was ‘safe’ (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis) “Of course not. ” replied Mr. Beaver. “But Aslan is good.”
Exactly. If I can teach my kids, in the middle of all this opulence, that ‘safe’ is not the equivalent of ‘good’, I will have continued to succeed in my parenting.
On this trip so far, I continue to have undistracted talks with the self-directed young adults these kids are becoming. It’s a beautiful thing.
I think the best reason to be here has to do with identity formation. Now is a critical time for all these kids to figure out who they are. The death of Chris was a terrible blow to this process, and it’s a very real lack.
So I cast around mainly for time. When I am at home, the demands on my time are pretty big. My job, my sick dad, and Rachael being at home are my main time expenditures, and it’s OK. But, with four kids, it’s pretty much an odds game that someone is going to need some parental input, right this instant.
Running a family is definitely a two person job.
But it is what it is, and I run around finding as much undistracted time to pour into these kids as I can. It helps.
Here are some of the knotty problems to untangle:
Faith is a junior this quarter. Yes, she just graduated last May, but DU finally processed all her honors, AP and additional collegiate coursework. She also obtained a research fellowship with a doctoral student. Med school is screaming down the tracks.
Christopher is really into his construction management studies. Many of the major companies offer internships around the country. Take one in some other part of the US, or part of the globe, for six months or so?
Abi might transfer to Savannah or Manhattan next year. This kid is remarkable, but that’s a big step, and she’s nervous about being away from everything she knows.
Rachael is just taking these first steps, and is dealing with a culture at EHS that frowns upon accomplishment. How to help her without transmitting my own cynicism toward American public school?
If you’re a person of faith, pray for me. This is a ton of work. If you’re my friend, buy me a Starbucks.
If you’re a single parent, shoot me back some advice, as soon as you can. I could use it!
Saint Maarten tomorrow!